It was always Hank’s favorite time of year. Fall was working its magic over the trees as it picked up where Summer had left off. Yellows, browns, reds and oranges. It reminded him of his youth where colors and even smells were more vibrant. Ah, those smells. People would burn wood and leaves and that old familiar scent would drift over the hills, and when it hit the nose, memories blossomed.
“Looks like rain.” Bob sat next to Hank on the porch of his house, drinking good coffee and looking out over the rolling hills dotted with houses and barns. For the last six years since Bob’s wife, Martha, had passed, this had been their morning ritual. It wasn’t the same as having a warm body to sleep next to, but it helped to have a friend. Hank had never married, but had always held an ember for the one that got away. Not a day passed where he didn’t think of her.
“Yup,” Hank replied. Not much had to be said between the two of them. At this point, Hank mused, they had the rapport of an old married couple, comfortable in their ways and communicating much with few words. He didn’t love Bob like he’d loved Sadie, of course, but like a brother? Sure. He and Bob had been friends since grade school, all the way through high school, going their separate ways as young men, but then finding their way back to where they’d started somehow and rekindling a friendship that didn’t turn to vinegar like so many others; theirs had been more like wine.
“Hear the news?” There was no doubt in Bob’s mind that Hank had heard the news. Getting on in their years didn’t stop them from wanting to know what was happening beyond their own fences, despite the way they sensatialized damnear everthing for that almighty dollar, as Hank’s sister Ruthy had put it. Those words played in his mind anytime he turned the TV box on to catch the evening update.
“Yup,” Hank said. “Not good.” And it wasn’t. It was just the opposite. A meteor the size of a football field was headed right for their quiet little farming community. Not enough to wipe out the planet, North America, or even all of Illinois but Kinderhook and all of Pike County was a’goner. Still, this wasn’t enough to make them pack up and leave, though there was plenty of time for that (even for a couple of old codgers like themselves). No, it was the asteroid two days behind that kept them in their chairs, watching life go by like they’d done for years. That one was a ten-miler, just like the one that had taken out the dinosaurs, give or take. And that was just it — there was no where to run to.
Bob sipped his coffee, and gave a chuckle. “Well, we had a good run, didn’t we?” There was a hitch in his laugh. It was caught on something, alright but it was clear Bob was not ready to become a blubbering mess just yet. Hank was sure he felt the same way. There were tears to be shed, but they would come in their own time. No sense rushing to nonsense. That was his Pop, Big Jim, talking. Another thing that played in his mind in times like these and other times, for seemingly no Earthly reason at all.
“Yup.” A cool breeze was coming in from the North — a sure sign of rain (that and the threatening clouds, and though they were at an age where all the old aches and pains earned in youth would flare up, there was still that same feeling of serenity that would wash over him. He remembered being a young boy and climbing to the top of the tallest tree on the property, wedging himself just right to keep from falling. There, he’d spread his arms out and close his eyes. On days like these, the wind would push past and he was certain that one day he would spread his wings and fly away just like a jay.
“Shouldn’t be long now,” Bob remarked. It occurred to Hank that Bob had chosen to spend his last moments here rather than with his pals at the diner, or his stuffy church friends. He could think of a number of other places where Bob might have spent his final moments. There had been time enough for Bob to catch a puddle jumper to be with his son’s family, but instead he was here. That meant something. Hank looked at his old friend and saw a tear track running down his friend’s face, and part of him wanted to comment or, hell, just pat Bob’s shoulder to let him know he cared, but he thought better. Now he was choking back a tear or two himself.
“Yup.” And that’s when they both saw it. Something was brightening behind the dark clouds that had gathered over them. It was sprinkling now, and soon it would rain. Rain always reminded Hank of Sadie. He thought back to her now, and hoped she was with her family now. It wasn’t regret. No, it was more like the could-have-beens that played in his mind every now and then. On those occasions, he wondered what might have happened if he’d held onto her instead of playing games. But if he was going to start blaming his younger self for things, well, that would be opening up a whole can of worms. Instead, he thought it better to just let things lie. Still, it sent a pang through him and the tears came. At any other moment, he’d have felt a kind of shame for crying in front of another man, but not now. He looked over at Bob and smiled.
Bob smiled back, and gave another chuckle. “Look at us, two old coots crying. Aren’t we a sight?” Hank gave a laugh back. “Yup.” He let the tears come. It was absurd, but he didn’t care. The rain clouds that had swept over the valley had brought a darkness that was now being brightened, just the way the sun does when it finally makes it over the horizon. Soon, bright gave way to the stark light of midday and then it was too much to look at. Both men closed their eyes and waited for what came next. Whether it was heaven or darkness, Hank didn’t know but he was no longer afraid.
He’d lived a good, long life.